ELIZABETH A. CONKEY, Staff Writer
BENNINGTON -- Bennington County Head Start programs could be in danger of closing this winter if a shutdown of the federal government continues into December, Program Director Betsy Rathbun-Gunn said Thursday.
According to Rathbun-Gunn, the Bennington Head Start program, which has sites in Bennington, North Bennington, Pownal, Shaftsbury, Manchester, and Arlington, serves approximately 115 low-income families and children throughout the county.
Nationally, some 1,600 Head Start programs provide nutrition, education, and health services to roughly 1 million individuals of similar socioeconomic backgrounds.
Tuesday's government shutdown will culminate in a slew of program closures across the country if congress does not resume operation in a timely manner.
The National Head Start Association reported Tuesday that the shutdown has already cased 19,000 children to lose access to Head Start Services.
Initially, it is estimated that only about 20 programs will be directly affected -- programs that are "10/1 grantees," or programs whose federal grants ran out on Tuesday.
Rathbun-Gunn said Vermont is void of Head Start programs that fall into that category, but that there are a handful of programs throughout New England that do.
According to information provided by the Vermont Head Start Association's Collaboration Director Ben Allen, the Champlain Valley Head Start/Early Head Start and the Central Vermont Community Action Council Head Start/Early Head Start programs may face an imminent threat of closure, as they are both funded by annual federal grants which begin on November 1 of each fiscal year.
According to Rathbun-Gunn, Bennington County's Head Start program will be face a threat of closure if the organization does not receive its annual funding on January 1, 2014. The program has been successfully funded through December 31 of this year.
"People have to know that this shutdown is really affecting us," she said. "We are a federal to local program -- our federal tax dollars come right back into the community. Without funding, we will no longer be able to offer our services to local families."
The director added that there is also some concern regarding the future of child and adult nutrition programs correlated with Bennington County's Head Start program.
The program provides free breakfasts and lunches for needy families.
"If we aren't able to access the funding, we will not be able to feed the children and families," said Rathbun-Gunn.
She noted that she feels optimistic about the future of Bennington County's Head Start program, and doubts that the program will actually close its doors. However, Rathbun-Gunn recognizes that the threat is real.
"It's a day by day, moment by moment situation," she said. "We're all very lean, work on a close budget. If funding is not available over the next couple of weeks, that will severely impact our ability to provide the comprehensive services we offer to children and families. Every day that this goes on, it affects us."
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @bethconkey.